This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a week I could not go without mentioning. This is the second year I have celebrated this week in a recovery place. What struck a chord with me though, was that the theme for this year’s NEDAwareness week is ‘everybody knows somebody’. But isn’t it true and for me that is a difficult thing to hear. This year, they really ask that people do one thing – just ONE thing- to spread awareness.
A big part about starting a blog was to create this awareness around the stigma of eating disorders and recovery. I started reading blogs right before I went into treatment. I soaked it all up, but all the bad parts. The parts where bloggers almost glorify undereating, unhealthy weights and excessive exercise. The parts that readers would comment and praise them for these behaviors. The parts where comparison was all I could see. After treatment, I took a good year off of any sort of blog reading. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to view blogs in that healthy manner, that manner where you create a distance from those that feed those unhealthy habits. When I decided I wanted to start a blog, I slowly started reading them again. But I made a deal with myself that I had to know where that distance was, where that line was on those blogs that still did my recovery no justice. I will be honest, I still see and read many that are deep in denial or just really struggling. I see readers giving them compliments on obviously questionable behaviors. I have learned you sometimes just have to turn your head, a battle not worth fighting.
But what makes me sick is when I see blogs that give out FALSE and WRONG information about the dangers of eating disorders. That makes my blood boil and my throat close. Why? Because I see females behind the screen, reading that blog and wanting to be them. Those girls who were once me unable to see the disorder ridden in their actions.
If I could do one thing, just one thing to spread awareness – I would call out those behaviors more often. But I don’t. No one wants to be that person. Sometimes you are fighting a battle with basically a sick Alex before recovery – that Alex that claimed at a scary low weight she was full of energy and life, claimed she craved nothing but vegetables, claimed that higher volume yet caloric smaller meals were filling, claimed she needed to run to recover, claimed that everything was ok.
So my way of spreading awareness is sharing my story and a guest post from another survivor I was able to meet in person. Because I am ‘the run within’ I bet people are wondering what running had to do with recovery.
Running was not always healthy for me. Flat out. I still remember in my sickest days I claimed that I needed running so that I could have the hunger to eat more and gain weight. Oh immature, in denial, so sick Alex. I didn’t take rest days, I went for time and time only. I refused to do anything else but run. I under fueled and I faced the consequences. What sent my Alex defined recovery (this is the period in high school and beginning of college where I thought I could stay at the most minimal weight for me, be ok, yet still displayed many ED behaviors) into a tail spin full blown relapse was my injury – a pelvic bone stress fracture. Can you say ow? It is a rare stress fracture, one that the doctor told me most military people got. It wasn’t that I was running for hours each day, I actually ran less than I did today but it was the way I was treating my body around the running that made the injury come on. No rest days, no proper eating, under weight, no period (!!!!!!), weak bones and enter the dreaded stress fracture.
After treatment, full weight restored and period back, I was scared to run. Yes, the girl who once could not think of living without running was scared to get out there. I had already been four months without running and feared the trust I had with it. Working with both my nutritionist and therapist they allowed me to not get back to running. I just wasn’t ready. This time I wanted recovery and feared that running would fuel a negative mindset. I didn’t know if I could handle the balance that was needed, that delicate balance where my body was hormonal correct and my mind was doing running for all the right reasons. I also was scared of feeling my body. In running, you are completely in touch with your physical self. That scared me. Could I inhabit this new Alex? What if I felt something I didn’t want to? Movement scared me.
But from there how did I get to here? At first it was a small encouragement to get back to what I love. Running was not always unhealthy, it actually made me the ninth grade happy kid I was. Why did those closest to me encourage me so much to get back to running? Because it ultimately would mean gaining that trust back in myself and the activity that brought me pure joy. It took a while, I spent nearly three months slowly building up running, maybe two miles a week, maybe ten, maybe none.
I need to point out case blank, not all sufferers can go back to the exercise they did while they were sick. My best friend decided she could never go back to the gym, it was too negative of a space for her so instead found movement in swimming. My roommate in treatment found biking as her movement instead of the intense races she used to compete in. You see the trend though? It is an individual journey, one where you need to have the right mindset before engaging in. When it becomes destructive, when it about the calories, when it is about the eating, when you can’t not do it – that is when it is time to step back.
I want to share with you Laura’s journey with movement, a different spin but again the same idea. ( I will be reviewing her book once I finish it!)
After seeing Alex’s blog featured on Washingtonian’s Well+Being blog, I decided to contact her. A couple weeks ago, I met with Alex and shared with her the book I published on my experiences with an eating disorder, Sick: In The Name Of Being Well, I Made Myself Sick. At first, I did not know that Alex also had experiences suffering from an eating disorder. I was glad that she felt comfortable opening up about it when we met to talk.
Through sharing my book, I have met many new and diverse people who have struggled with eating disorders, such as Alex. Speaking with Alex was interesting to me, and I took note of some of the similarities and differences in our experiences. Both of us were runners when symptoms started occurring. Both of us did our best to cover up the pain. And, today, Alex and I are each interested in helping those who struggle with eating disorders, while also maintaining an athletic background.
Perhaps the main difference between Alex’s story and my own is that today Alex continues to run and I prefer other forms of exercise and physical activity. This is just what makes recovering from an eating disorder such a unique process. There is no formula. Activities that were once healthy for an individual can become unhealthy and then a wonderful passion all over again, but for others it is best to give certain activities up completely in favor of others.
For me, something particularly difficult in my eating disorder recovery was the idea that doctors wanted to take exercise away from me. For many years I continued to exercise until I got so sick to the point that even the seemingly omnipotent power of my own anxiousness could not push me to go back to the gym. Perhaps it is true: If only I could have given up exercise when doctors first warned me to, then maybe I would not have relapsed twice and come to rely on it so much to make me feel good. However, the reality as I see it today is that no matter what I weigh, movement is a necessary component of daily life that makes me feel good. Does it have to be a scientifically proven method or competition against myself? No. All I need is a space to move my body (preferably with certain pieces of equipment). From there, I do my best to be grateful for and work with what I have. It is all-too-easy to get stuck in the mentality of what I’ve got isn’t good enough and does not measure up to what I would like it to be. Though to a certain extent this type of mentality motivates us to be better, acknowledging that you are good enough as is takes a different type of strength that can be quite powerful too.
To learn more about Laura and purchasing her book, find her on the web at www.LauraSusanneYochelson.com
I am sorry for being so wordy today but this topic is close to my heart. Do one thing today to raise awareness, one thing. for me and all those that once or still do suffer.
I’m out. I have a single girl status Vday to celebrate.